Loss to Mexico punctuates a rough year for US soccer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) The American Outlaws and their fellow U.S. soccer fans were louder, rowdier and more numerous than they were four years ago for their team's last clash with Mexico at the Rose Bowl.
They were still wildly outnumbered and heavily out-roared by the Mexican fans who turned the U.S. national team into visitors in its own stadium Saturday night.
''There was a difference - not sure how huge it was,'' captain Michael Bradley said, comparing the crowd to the 2011 Gold Cup final. ''That's no slight on the American fans here. It was very, very, very pro-Mexican. That's just reality.''
The Americans are facing several stark realities late in an unimpressive year, and they're not about fan support.
Their 3-2 loss to Mexico on a spectacular extra-time goal by Paul Aguilar was the lowest point in a stretch that includes a semifinal loss in the Gold Cup and several head-scratching results in friendlies.
Despite the close score, the Americans were outclassed in skill, possession, depth and finishing touches. Mexico earned CONCACAF's berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup, leaving the U.S. without another opportunity to face the world's best teams or a trip to Russia before the 2018 World Cup.
With little evident progress since last year's World Cup, coach Jurgen Klinsmann realizes he is facing concerns about his program's direction and his ability to change it, even though U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati says the German's job is safe.
''Everybody can express his opinion, and not everybody likes you,'' said Klinsmann, who shapes every aspect of the U.S. team as the program's technical director. ''That is totally fine. I'm not here to be liked. I'm trying to do a good job. I'm privileged to have that role and represent the U.S. soccer program. It's a privilege for me to do my best to my capabilities and to leave the judgment out there for people who want to express themselves.''
Klinsmann took two blows Saturday in his dual role. While his senior team couldn't beat Mexico for the seventh straight time, his under-23 team is in danger of missing the Olympics after losing 2-0 to Honduras. The youngsters must beat Canada on Tuesday and then win a playoff with Colombia just to make the Rio field.
''Obviously it was a bummer to see the Olympic team not win today as well,'' said Klinsmann, who had never lost to Mexico as a German player or a U.S. coach. ''You can have your own impression (if) you look back at the last four years at what we did.''
The thrilling loss on a memorable Southern California night exemplified several deficiencies. The Americans had to think defensively all night just to keep up with Mexico's talented lineup, which was fronted by three speedy forwards who kept the U.S. thoroughly occupied.
The Mexicans held possession and exerted steady pressure that forced the U.S. midfielders to drop back in support, leaving the entire lineup playing defensively while Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey stood around up top. The Americans' scoring hopes essentially were confined to set pieces or counterattacks, neither of which were in abundance.
It's not the exciting, inventive soccer promised by Klinsmann when he took over. Bradley was clinical about the Americans' problems.
''The way they played gave us a little bit of trouble, and we ended up getting pinned back,'' Bradley said. ''(Oribe) Peralta, (Raul) Jimenez and Chicharito were all mobile in central areas, and that forced our four defenders inside pretty narrow, and it meant that our outside midfielders spent a lot of time in the back line covering wide areas, and it meant that we had no presence in the midfield in wide areas. So over the course of the game, that means that they're able to pin us back.''
The Americans just don't appear to have the talent or the tactics to regularly beat the world's best, but it's unclear whether the Rose Bowl loss will mark the start of a personnel shift in the U.S. lineup.
Klinsmann, ever enamored with youth, said before the game that it might be the last chance for certain over-30 players to participate in a huge international game. Yet he backed away from those thoughts after the game, perhaps realizing he'll need veteran talent to pick up victories in World Cup qualifying starting next month.
''There is no reason right now to cut the cord with any of these guys,'' Klinsmann said after referencing DaMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. ''It's not necessary. Our responsibility also at the same time is to give fresh blood more of an opportunity, to give fresh players like DeAndre Yedlin and Jozy an opportunity to break in and give it an open fight for a spot.''